Windows 8 Start Screen
The first thing you're sure to notice in Windows 8 is the colorfully-tiled Start screen. Yes, the good ol' Start menu is officially toast. A full-screen menu of sorts replaces the simple pop-up we've used since Windows 95.
Also startling to most users is the fact that Windows 8 boots to the Start screen instead of the classic Windows desktop. But worry not. See that big tile at the bottom of the first column? The one with the two daisies on a blue background? Click that tile and you'll get ported to a much more familiar environment (we'll cover the Windows 8 desktop soon, but first, let's try to make some sense out of the new UI).
Windows 8 applications are represented by brightly-colored live tiles. More than mere icons, live tiles can display and update app data. For instance, the Weather app stays current with local weather conditions. The Store app displays the number of available app updates. And our own Tom's Hardware app displays the headline of our latest article.
Tiles can be rearranged by simply clicking and dragging them to another location. The live updates can be disabled, and tiles can be re-sized to take up one or two vertical icon spots. They can also be unpinned or even uninstalled from the Start screen. Right-clicking on a tile brings up the App bar (detailed later) with all these options.
Although desktop apps can be pinned to the Start screen, they don't appear as live tiles, but as regular icons within a tile (again, more on this later).
Tiles can be organized into groups, which are at least two tiles wide, but can be as large as you desire. In other words, you can create a bunch of two-tile-wide groups, one mammoth group of tiles, or any combination in-between.
In order to create a group of tiles, simply drag a tile into a blank area next to or between existing groups. An opaque vertical bar appears, indicating where the new group is to be created.
You can zoom out for a bird's-eye view of the entire Start screen by clicking the minus sign in the bottom-right corner. On a touchscreen-equipped device, this can also be achieved with a two-finger pinch-to-zoom gesture.
In this view, you can rearrange entire groups of tiles by clicking and dragging, just as you did with individual tiles in the regular view. Right-clicking on any tile group brings up the App bar, which gives you an option to name that group of tiles.
Your picture and name appear toward the upper right-hand corner of the Windows 8 Start screen. Clicking this area yields a pop-down menu with the options to change your user account picture, lock the screen, or log out.
But the apps that appear on the Start screen don't cover everything you get in Windows 8. What happened to Calculator, Paint, and Remote Desktop, for example?
All of the non-Windows 8 UI apps, including the ones listed above, plus Notepad, WordPad, and the Run command, are in All Apps. Right-clicking anywhere on the Start screen opens the App bar. All Apps is on the far right end of it. Clicking on All Apps takes you to an Apps screen, which is somewhat similar to the old Start menu, but with the menu trees expanded out into a full-screen list.
The Windows 8 UI apps are listed first, followed by categorized listings of all legacy Windows apps. You can right-click on any of them to bring up an option to pin to the Start screen or Desktop taskbar (along with opening a new window, running as administrator, and navigating to the folder containing the app).